Meet the modders fixing the bad Sonic games of your youth

Sonic the Hedgehog has come a long way in the past few years. From the open-world reinvention of Sonic Frontiers to the financial success of the film series, the well-loved Sega mascot is booming. But while some at Sega would like you to forget some of Sonic’s rather mediocre (or downright awful) outings – particularly the mid-2000s – the die-hard modders in the surprisingly active 3D Sonic scene are here to fix the vexed then thousands of school children.

Of the many, many Sonic games that have come out over the years, it’s fair to say that 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog is the most infamous. With a wildly ambitious cast of playable characters and a doomed cross-species love story between Sonic and a human princess, Sonic ’06 is one of the finest examples of publisher hubris. Does it deserve its reputation as the worst game of all time? Absolutely not, according to Sonic fan ChaosX. And he’s far from the only one feeling this way.


From a certain perspective, you can concede that Sonic ’06 has the bones of a good game – its large playable cast and segmented stage styles seem to make it the intended next step in the Sonic Adventure formula, which proved popular with fans has. ChaosX attributes many of Sonic 2006’s shortcomings to its rushed development, particularly its confusing story and abundance of bugs.

Although P-06 is the most complete remake of Sonic ’06 currently available, it wasn’t the first attempt – in fact, the game has enjoyed a dedicated modding community since its release. Thanks to this fact, ChaosX was able to use many already existing mod tools to work on P-06. The scene helped him learn to code in new languages ​​like C# and assisted with beta testing and similar footwork. However, when it came to fixing the game’s much-maligned physics system or introducing his own mechanics, he had to work hard to realize his own vision for the project.

ChaosX says he didn’t have any specific aspects of the game that he wanted to fix in P-06 – rather he wanted to improve as many parts of it as possible. As the project currently stands, this involved adding a few new moves to the various playable characters in the game, as well as revamping the feel of his moves and jumps. Currently, ChaosX is still in the process of completing the Silver the Hedgehog beta phases and adding all the bosses from the game’s story mode. Although progress has been slow, overall he is happy with the state of P-06 and feels comfortable with the game.

While ChaosX enjoyed working on the project, he’s personally glad that Sonic Team has moved away from the linear gameplay of 3D Sonic games, particularly those developed after the Adventure series. In his opinion, the classic 2D Sonic games managed to achieve a high level of replayability by threading multiple routes within the same stage, which is a trait that the 3D games have struggled to replicate.

Sonic Mania is an excellent entry point for fans interested in the 2D days of the series.
Sonic Mania is an excellent entry point for fans interested in the 2D days of the series.

“It might be hard for some to listen to, but the ‘werehog’ portions of Sonic Unleashed are the parts of this game that are most replayable because it’s much more experimental and flexible in its gameplay design,” he says. “In summary, the Boost games have a very attractive appeal but don’t stand the test of time. Thankfully, the Sonic team sees the formula’s downsides and decided to redefine it with Sonic Frontiers, which is a much-needed overhaul.”

Sonic 2006 might be popularly considered the worst Sonic game out there, but Shadow the Hedgehog is certainly among the most bizarre. While not quite as memorable (or as meme-ified) as the disastrous ’06, Shadow is a game that embodies the spirit of its era, for better or worse. Best known for giving its edgy protagonist a weapon, Shadow also infuses its levels with the then-novel “moral choice” mechanic, leading to different endings depending on the path chosen. Sonic modder LimblessVector describes the game as a “strange duck,” which is exactly what motivated him to play with it in the first place.

“Shadow the Hedgehog definitely has its strengths,” he explains. “The branching paths offer great replay value, and the Force States of Chaos feel like a more exciting take on the Super Sonic dynamic from the classic games. But the overall gameplay feels achingly stretched out to reach any length of playtime mix of some really good ideas, some fun parts, some annoying and unfunny sections, and some very weird branding choices.”

Shadow the Hedgehog's edgy looks and penchant for guns have made him something of a meme in the Sonic community, but he's a popular character himself.
Shadow the Hedgehog’s edgy looks and penchant for guns have made him something of a meme in the Sonic community, but he’s a popular character himself.

LimblessVector and fellow modder dreamsyntax have developed an ambitious project for the game called Shadow the Hedgehog: Reloaded. Reloaded is described as an enhancement and quality of life mod best played through the Dolphin emulator. Reloaded overhauls many of Shadow’s basic moves, fixing oversights and restoring unused content, including music and dialogue. However, the vast majority of the mod focuses on what LimblessVector calls “simple changes” – the same changes that inspired him to make the mod in the first place.

Both modders had relatively clear goals when they first got into shadow modding – for example, dreamsyntax wanted to create a multiplayer version of his campaign, which he mistakenly thought would be easy. LimblessVector’s original idea was to optimize certain mission objectives that were either too difficult or just downright tedious to complete. When he discovered the numbers were stored in a plain text file, he edited the file and was beyond shock when the game accepted the new value without complaint. That was the real beginning of the Reloaded project.

“The issues just seemed so obvious to fix,” explains LimblessVector. “It’s not even that the game is particularly buggy or unfinished, it’s that those numbers are just too high. It was so easy to lower them. I felt like I was taking revenge on the game because it made me suffer. But over time we decided to improve the overall design of the game as much as possible.”

Reloaded’s full list of changes ranges from basic to so tiny only hardcore speedrunners would notice the difference. For example, the mod speeds up all of the “excruciatingly slow” elevators in the game and overhauls the way Shadow and the game’s vehicles are controlled at a fundamental level. Some of the shifts required creative solutions: in the original game, for example, Shadow’s “Light Dash” ability (which allows the player to zoom in on large rows of rings) stopped his momentum in his lanes. To fix this, the developers added an extra ring under the level at the end of each of the lines to make Shadow snap to the ground and continue running at full speed.

Modding console games is often seen as a tedious exercise, but both developers of Reloaded praise Dolphin’s capabilities and note that its design is particularly mod-friendly. Dolphin’s ability to run unzipped files (ie, elements extracted from the actual game disc without having to repackage them) was key to the project and allowed the duo to accomplish far more in a short period of time than they ever had had expected.

Recent Sonic games have moved away from the large cast of playable characters in previous 3D games, instead focusing on Sonic himself.
Recent Sonic games have moved away from the large cast of playable characters in previous 3D games, instead focusing on Sonic himself.

Although both LimitlessVector and dreamsyntax are currently focused on other projects, they are both open to further improvements for Reloaded. Both are discussing possibly adding new geometry to the game to mix up the levels, as well as overhauling Shadow’s “expert mode” to make it a real challenge.

Overall, though, they believe they’ve managed to improve on one of the most misunderstood games in the Sonic series – one that deserves a better fate than just serving as a lazy punch line. Dreamsyntax notes that the game’s internal build dates seem to indicate that the game was developed in less than a year. Like Sonic 2006 – and many disappointing games before it – Shadow was the victim of an unreasonably short development cycle dictated by the brutal realities of the video game market.

As you explore the world of video game mods, it’s tempting to ask yourself: Why would anyone choose to improve a game that wasn’t very good to begin with? In the case of notable series like Sonic the Hedgehog, there will always be a simmering interest in the series’ most notorious entries, like the rubberneckers pushing every accident. But while games like Shadow the Hedgehog deserve a little easy ripping, these dedicated modders are simply giving the games what they missed the first time – time and thought.

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